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Tuesday, July 15, 2008
The book is always better...
We've all heard the old adage, "The book is always better" (to which I add the caveat: if it came first and isn't a novelization based on the script).

Two movies I've seen lately only confirmed this for me. And the shame of it is that I was really looking forward to seeing both.

The movies are The List and The Ruins, both of which were books first that I really liked. The other similiarity is that both novels were adapted for the screen by the authors involved in writing them. And while I know that in every book adapted for the screen, some things have to be compacted and some eliminated, I find myself scratching my head as to why the authors decided to do what they did in adapting their novels for the big screen.

The first is The Ruins, which if you've not read it is a scary little book for the first three-quarters. It does start to stretch the premise a bit thin by the novel's last quarter, but it's still a compelling little read. It's not great literature by any stretch of the imagination, but it's still a good summer time read. The story follows two American couples on a spring break and a couple of other guys who head out into a Mexican jungle looking for some off-the-beaten-path Myan ruins. They find the ruins, covered in some kind of native plant and meet a group of natives who try to warn them away from the site. But once one of the girls steps on the plant, the group is forced onto the ruin and not allowed to leave. Why you ask? Well, turns out the plant is a pretty nasty one.

The story is pure horror and some pretty horrible things happen to our heroes out there. One guy falls down the shaft in the middle of the ruins, breaking his back and suffering a gruesome, slow death. One girl gets a cut and the plant works its way inside her, leading to her becoming obsessed with getting it out and taking steps to get it out. There is a LOT of blood and gore in this one and if you're not up for that, then I'd suggest not seeing it.

And while the gore and such is over the top, it was no where nearly as bad as the mental picture I had in my head when I read the book. Yes, it was all cringe-worthy and I had to look away, but it still was no where near as unsettling as the novel.

The script also made some interesting choices in what it dropped. One aspect that is dropped is one of the girls keeps falling asleep on watch, thus allowing the plant to creep in and attack. It also highlights the basic selfishness of the character. In fact, a lot of the character stuff is dropped from the book. Instead, we get four pretty people who are in a really bad situation. The impact of the characters' demise is better in the book because we care about them as people and not just as "the blonde girl", "the blonde guy" etc.

And the movie makes some odd choices, reassigning roles from the book. I won't say much as it will ruin the final half of the movie and the book, but it's jarring enough that it took me out of the movie.

The movie does play a lot with the book's ending, though it does leave the final stinger in tact. The problem with that is the same one I had with the book--it's working too hard to set up a potential sequel or have that Twilight Zone-like jolt that it just doesnt' work.

Then there was Robert Whilow's The List.

Based on the contempoary-Christian legal thriller, I had high hopes for this one and had been looking forward to seeing it since I heard it was being made into a movie last year. It seemed to take forever to come out on DVD (it was never at a theater near me that I could see) and I have to admit I was really eager to see it.

And maybe I had my expectations too high. But this movie was..well, just not that great. The acting was wooden and unconvincing. Maybe part of that is that a lot of the story is the internal struggle of our hero as he goes on his own spiritual journey and eventually comes to realize the only answer is a relationship with Jesus. The thing is that in all of Whitlow's novels is that this journey never feels forced and it's not always "black and white" like other novels, where you know who is going to be saved by the mid-point of the novel and who isn't. Whitlow makes this journey feel authentic in his stories..and that journey just doesn't have the authenticity it needs here.

I'm not sure if the script is to blame or the acting. Or the direction. Or maybe all three. Universally, the acting is pretty much not that hot, even Malcolm McDowell as the villain. Of course, it's hard to hear McDowell doing a really bad Southern accent and trying to look menacing. And maybe it's that I read the book, but the plot twists are too telegraphed by the script to be a shock, instead leading us to think our hero is a fool and a turkey for not seeing them coming.

I wanted to like both of these movies. But I came away disappointed by both. Which is a shame as I think done right they could have been blockbusters.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/15/2008 02:36:00 PM | |
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